Perspective: An Unexpected Gift
Wine. Dice. And....Lash Booster? You can never predict which way the conversation will flow on Ladies' Night. This was our most recent. And why wouldn't it be? A miracle treatment for naturally fuller, longer eye lashes? Because...eye lashes!!
I couldn't help but think, My lashes have never really been the same since I lost them during chemo.
But I didn't say it out loud. It didn't quite seem to fit the festive mood. Instead, I laughed in the right places. Asked questions. Smiled.
Theodore Roosevelt famously said, Comparison is the thief of joy.
Two days later I settled into a brown vinyl chair in the Chemotherapy Suite for my regular immune therapy infusion. (Chemotherapy Suite? You see how they do that?)
I've come to appreciate the way these appointments keep me grounded.
A woman signing consent for her first treatment. Shaky voice....When will I start losing my hair?
An inmate curled on the cot in the small room off to the side, guard stationed nearby. I wonder if cancer feels more, or less, like a prison than...well...prison? His orange jumpsuit was somehow at odds with the IV chemo drip.
The couple beside us, in their eighties...husband receiving chemo. Hold my hand, it's cold, he said to her. She tenderly reached under the blankets to connect physically and emotionally. Later he offered to rub her sore neck. As he sat there, IV dripping the life sparing medicine that makes you feel like nothing short of death, he was offering to care for her.
Further down the row of chairs, two women, perhaps my age...perhaps a bit younger. Both were receiving their last chemo treatment for breast cancer. They each sat with a handful of friends and family members in an air of celebration. Balloons. Bubbles. Rachel Platten's Fight Song on the tiny treatment center boom box. The talk was of past struggles and next steps.
Revealing your bald head to your 2-year-old for the first time, and the fear your new image will terrify the child.
Forcing yourself to eat, and the fear nothing will taste good.
Mastectomies, and the hope of clear pathology.
Reconstructions, and the hope of manageable pain.
My first thought was selfish: I'll never get a Last Day.
So was my second: I may never have reconstruction. I'm waging a daily war against the scar tissue on my chest wall. Yoga, stretching, massage, ultrasound...all to manage the pain. All to be able to reach that bowl on the top shelf or lift Eli during a tantrum. So cut into my chest again...voluntarily? I'll pass, thanks.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Comparing myself to a snapshot in a stranger's life, a moment they had cause to celebrate...or to friends without cancer...doesn't fill the void. It's no more productive than eight-year-old-me pining for Stephanie Tanner's curly blond hair on Full House.
True, my eyelashes will never really be the same. I may never have reconstruction. Cancer takes and takes and takes.
Yet I've found if I listen...if I read between the lines of all the discouragement...that as cancer takes, it fills the space with something new.
In place of my breasts, I'm receiving the richness of perspective.
Where I once had long hair, I now speak the language of silence...I can sit with a grieving friend and realize sometimes saying nothing at all is just fine.
Instead of boundless energy to do All the Things, now I'm forced to choose between a sink full of dishes and a child asking to paint...and I can choose my child without guilt.
My waistline has been missing since 2015. (Ok.... Let'sBeHonest... 2012....) But my rambunctious 2-year-old has found his favorite place to rest his head is "on Mommy's tummy like I'm Bambi and you're the Mother Deer."
Five years ago, a friend of mine lost her child. Another friend said to her, "I hope this doesn't change you." Those words stuck between my teeth when I heard them, and occasionally I taste them again. Rancid. As I experience more things, Bigger Things, that statement only seems more discordant. Of course life changes us. Our experiences change us. Trauma and grief, particularly, change us.
I could compare my life to those who seem to have it easier. Instead, I prefer to accept the gift of perspective. Recognize for better or worse, this is my life now.
Allow cancer to change me.
I spent the weekend with friends who just lost a family member in a motorcycle accident. A few years ago, I would have felt the need to fill the space. With words. Actions. Decisions and cleaning and comic relief and sandwiches. (Ok, I admit I brought ice cream. But it's ice cream.)
Cancer has given me the strength to be vulnerable. To show up and say nothing, do nothing. Hold hands and wipe tears.
In a house brimming with All the Feels, their little girls did what little girls do...bickered. Between tears, my friend pleaded with them: Stop. You don't even realize how lucky you are to have one another.
At four and seven years old...they don't.
They won't. For years to come.
Perspective meets you where you are. And if it must, it will wait.